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Israel approves West Bank settlement expansion

March 8, 2010 10:47 A.M. (Updated: March 8, 2010 6:34 P.M.)
Bethelehem - Ma'an - The Israeli government authorized the building of 112 new homes in an illegal West Bank settlement on Monday, in spite of a declared halt to settlement expansion in November, Israeli media reported.

Israeli Environment Minister Gilad Erden told Army Radio that the Beitar Illit settlement, near Bethlehem, would see further expansion, but that the latest construction did not constitute a breach of the 10-month partial moratorium.

"At the end of last year, the government decided to freeze construction, but this decision provided for exceptions in cases of safety problems for infrastructure projects started before the freeze ... Such is the case in Beitar Illit," Erdan said.

PLO official slams latest expansion

The PLO's chief of Jerusalem affairs, Ahmad Qrei'a, condemend Israel's latest settlement expansion in the West Bank, stating that it undermined renewed US peace efforts.

The announcement on the eve of US Vice President Joe Biden's arrival in Israel, attempting to rebuild Middle East peace efforts after the PLO Executive Committee agreed to US-backed proximity talks with Israel.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived on Saturday, as indirect talks are set to begin. Negotiations were broken off in December 2008 when Israel launched its assault on the Gaza Strip.

While the PLO agreed Sunday to indirect talks with Israel, assigning a four-month deadline, it has repeatedly called for a halt to all settlement construction, particularly in East Jerusalem, before returning to talks. The occupied eastern part of the city was not included in Israel's 10-month halt, sparking Palestinian and international condemnation.

Dahlan: Israel to "detonate" opportunity offered by US

Israel's moratorium breach was further condemned by Fatah Central Committee member Muhammad Dahlan, who said the Israeli government was "planting land-mines" with indirect talks which are "about to detonate the opportunity which the Palestinian leadership offered to the US, ahead of US Vice President Joe Biden's visit."

Dahlan's statement added that the new residential unit in Beitar Illit "left no room for doubt that the current Israeli government is neither interested in the peace, nor does it care about the US administration and its stance, which states that East Jerusalem should be part of a finalized agreement."

This Israeli decision, according to Dahlan’s statement, proves that Israeli officials "race to satisfy settlers," imposing facts on the ground before proximity talks commence.

"These talks might end up useless since they were preceded with increase of settlement activity."

Israel to compensate settlers

The Israeli cabinet announced on Sunday that the government approved the outline for compensating Israeli citizens living in illegal West Bank settlements "adversely affected" by the 10-month settlement freeze.

Those Israelis eligible for compensation include "those who purchased apartments, to contractors and those with building permits and one-time compensation to those local councils that were adversely affected by the decision," a cabinet statement said, adding that a detailed criteria would be issued in the coming days.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed the move a "just and humanitarian decision."

Separation wall's construction continues in Bethlehem

The expansion of the Beitar Illit settlement further coincides with the latest construction of Israel's separation wall in Beit Jala, Bethlehem at the beginning of March.

On Sunday, the head of the Popular Committee Against the Wall, Khalid Azza, said once the wall's construction is complete, Beit Jala would be isolated from the neighboring Al-Walaja village, describing the act as "terrorism and piracy against Palestinian land."

"By continuing to build the separation wall in Beit Jalla, the Israeli government will crucify the city, just as Jesus Christ was crucified," he said.

The Israeli High Court of Justice ordered a halt to the wall's construction in the area in 2004, but Azza said the Israeli government "brushes aside" all resolutions and continues to challenge the international community.

An Israeli court issued a stop-order on the wall's construction four days prior, after a petition was filed by Ghayyath Nasser, a lawyer representing the municipality, which stated that the digging undertaken by Israeli forces was illegal, having begun immediately following a land confiscation order without giving landowners the stipulated 45 days to challenge the decision.

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